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Sell or spare: Two paths for Rabbit Island

College's foundation will begin real estate appraisal process, let supporters search for island benefactors.

January 20, 2007|By Michael Miller

The Orange Coast College Foundation will begin the process of putting Rabbit Island up for sale, but will give students and faculty a chance to seek alternate methods of funding for the British Columbian property.

At the foundation's board meeting Thursday, several members described the island as a drain on OCC's financial resources and said they were keen on regaining the money they had invested in it. A core group of students and faculty, however, have asked the foundation to hold on to Rabbit Island, calling it a valuable academic resource.

The foundation did not vote on selling Rabbit Island on Thursday, and Executive Director Doug Bennett said no ruling would likely take place until May. For the time being, the board opted for two solutions: begin to appraise Rabbit Island for the real estate market and allow the island's supporters to spend the next two months seeking possible benefactors.

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"I knew going into this that the side that wants its money back is going to pursue that possibility," biology professor Dennis Kelly, who has led courses on Rabbit Island, said after the meeting. "The fact that they're pursuing this two-track approach is encouraging."

Kelly said he and other faculty members were hoping for a donor to provide funds for the island's upkeep. The foundation, which received Rabbit Island in 2002 as a gift from yachtsman Henry Wheeler, pays about $75,000 every year to run programs and maintain facilities on the property. Kelly and other professors applied last year for a National Science Foundation grant to create a strategic plan for courses on Rabbit Island and are expecting to hear the results next month.

In addition, student body President Lynne Riddle floated the idea Thursday of charging a $2 student fee per semester to finance Rabbit Island. The student body plans to host a pair of seminars April 3 on campus to share information about the island, and Riddle said her group might hold a referendum afterward to determine support for retaining it.

The cost to students, Riddle noted, would be "one Starbucks per semester."

Others, however, questioned how the foundation would be refunded for the money it has invested in Rabbit Island.

Brad Avery, the director of OCC's School of Sailing and Seamanship, said Friday that he regarded the island the way he regarded donated yachts — as a temporary resource and an expensive one.

"If we held on to all the boats, if we held on to the island, we'd run out of money in no time," Avery said. "It costs a lot to maintain it and administer it, and we need to move forward."

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